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Books Titles

La Catedral del mar by Ildefonso Falcones
Radio Ciudad Perdida by Alfaguara Daniel Alarcón
Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) by Gabriel García Márquez
Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) by G. Marquez
Cuando era puertorriqueña (When I Was Puerto Rican) by Esmeralda Santiago
Déjame que te cuente... (Let Me Tell You a Story…) by Jorge Bucay
Del amor y otros demonios by Gabriel García Márquez
Don Quixote by Cervantes
El Alquimista: Una Fabula Para Seguir Tus Sueños by Paulo Coelho
El Bosque de los Pigmeos by Isabel Allende
El Capitán Alatriste by Arturo Pérez Reverte
El Entierro de Cortijo (Cortijo’s Wake) by Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá
El juego del ángel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
El Señor Presidente (Mr. President) by Miguel Angel Asturias
El Zorro: Comienza La Leyenda by Isabel Allende
Hija de la Fortuna (Daughter of Fortune) by Isabel Allende
Juan el jardinero by Aardvark, E.S.
La Casa de los espiritus (House of Spirits) by Isabel Allende
La Ciudad de las Bestias (City of the Beasts) by Isabel Allende
La loca de Gandoca by Anacristina Rossi
La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South) by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Limpieza de sangre (Purity of Blood) by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Lluvia de Oro by Victor Villaseñor
Mal de Amores (Lovesick) by Angeles Mastretta
Matar a Pablo Escobar by Mark Bowden (trad. Claudio Molinari)
Mi Pais Inventado: Un Paseo Nostalgico por Chile (My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile) by Isabel Allende
Pablo Neruda, Selected Poems, Bilingual Edition by Pablo Neruda
Paula by Isabel Allende
Posdata by Octavio Paz
Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota (Spring with a Broken Corner) by Mario Benedetti

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Book Reviews

La Catedral del mar
Falcones, Ildefonso
Cathedral of the Sea
Translated by Nick Caistor
New American Library
2006 Spanish version
2008 English version

I’ve just finished yet another wonderful novel set in medieval Barcelona. My preferred bookseller seems to like these, and since I like to trade there and am starved for Spanish (or Latin American) authors, I read whatever I can get. Cathedral of the Sea was a good choice!

Fourteenth century Spain saw many changes in the commercial, social, and political structure through all levels of society, and this novel shares those changes with the reader in a very personal way, following the life of one individual, over 60 years from birth to death. Arnau is the infant son of a serf bound to the land, who escapes to the city, and gains his freedom. He works hard, is successful many times over, faces many adversities, suffers from the vagaries of jealousy of others, has many setbacks, and yet remains faithful, honest, successful, and respected.

His life parallels that of the construction of Barcelona’s Santa María del Mar church, and much of Arnau’s success is tied to the church’s building. There is much to learn in the descriptions of the construction, from comments made by the master architect to the reactions of the boy, young man, and elder (Arnau) who tends the Jesus chapel. The light streaming through the windows is a joy for Arnau. His devotion to the church and to his Mother Mary never wavers, even when the Inquisition imprisons, tries, and condemns him.

Merchant ships plied the Mediterranean carrying goods from one port to another, employing myriad people, representing a diverse ethnic and religious population, to make the trade successful. Arnau’s first contact with the church is to work as a water boy for the porters, who carry the goods on their back to and from the ships. These men, when there are no ships in port, carry blocks of stone from the quarry to the building site. As he grows, Arnau becomes a porter himself. Relationships founded during his youth serve to guide him throughout his life, providing both staunch enemies and faithful friends.

This novel is historical fiction, well researched and based on fact. Many of the characters and most of the historical events are real, while Arnau and his family are fictional. It is easy and interesting to read, without many complicated plot twists. The commercial and financial events are well presented, as is the medieval city of Barcelona. Not really an adventure novel, Cathedral of the Sea is more of a saga filled with adventure, intrigue, love and lust, and fidelity. A great way to spend a couple of cold afternoons curled up next to the fire!
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Editor

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Radio Ciudad Perdida, 2007
Daniel Alarcón, Alfaguara
Está disponible en amazon.com

Radio Ciudad Perdida, la primera novela en español por Daniel Alarcón, tiene lugar en un país latinoamericano sin nombre ni lugar, y le presenta al lector un vistazo de cómo era vivir durante las guerras civiles de la última mitad del siglo XX. La rutina de la vida, la desesperación de no saber lo que pasó a los familiares y a los amigos desaparecidos, la esperanza de que ellos vayan a aparecer en cualquier momento, la traición y la fidelidad, la pobreza y la carencia de lo necesario para vivir, y el optimismo para un futuro seguro – todo está presente en esta obra magnífica.

Un programa de radio llamada “Radio Ciudad Perdida” es el enlace entre la gente separada por la guerra hace varios años. Por varios métodos no explorados en la novela, la gente descubre el destino de la gente perdida. Concentra en la vida de la locutora y varias personas que tocan su vida.

El tiempo va y viene como las memorias van y vienen, a veces en el presente y a veces en el pasado. El punto de vista cambia de un personaje a otro para dar al lector un vistazo más completo de las condiciones bajo las cuales vivía la gente durante y después de las guerras.

El terror de estar hallado, el terror de estar solo, el terror de no tener casa ni comida, contrasten con la vida normal de una ciudad y un pueblo en la selva. La rutina de la vida continúa: el autobús le lleva al trabajo, la gente se reúne en la plaza, las mercancías llegan por barco, los niños juegan en el bosque.

Aunque pudiera ser una novela bastante deprimida y negativa, el lector cierra los cubiertos con un sentido de paz, que las cosas se resuelven y que la tranquilidad y normalidad regresan. El lenguaje es poesía en prosa, las descripciones de los lugares son tan claras como una fotografía, y los sentimientos interiores de los personajes proyectan sobre todo. Fue un placer leer esta novela y les recomienda con entusiasmo.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Book Review Editor

English version

Radio Ciudad Perdida, 2007
Daniel Alarcón, Alfaguara
Available at amazon.com

Radio Ciudad Perdida, the first novel in Spanish by Daniel Alarcón, takes place in a nameless Latin American country and allows the reader to have a glimpse of what it was like to live during the era of the late 20th century civil wars. The routine of daily life, the desperation of not knowing what happened to family members and friends, the hope that those who disappeared will reappear at any moment, the betrayal and loyalty, poverty and lack of life’s necessary things, and the optimism for a safe future – all is present in this magnificent work.

A radio program, “Radio Ciudad Perdida,” is the link that joins all the people who have been separated by the war through the years. By various means that are not explored in the novel, the characters discover the destiny of their lost people. The novel concentrates on the broadcaster and the people who touch her life.

Time comes and goes just as memories come and go, at times in the present and at times in the past. The point of view changes from one character to another in order to give the reader a more complete view of the conditions under which the people lived during and after the wars.

The terror of being found, the terror of being alone, the terror of not having a home or food, contrast with the normal life of a city and a village in the jungle. Daily life’s routines continue: the bus takes people to work, people gather in the plaza, goods arrive on a river boat, children play in the forest.

Although the novel could be extremely depressing and negative, the reader closes the covers with a feeling of peace, that things will resolve themselves, and that normalcy and calm will return. The language of the novel is poetry in prose, the descriptions of places are as clear as a photograph, and the personal, intimate feelings of the characters project themselves over everything. It was a pleasure to read this novel and I enthusiastically recommend it.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Book Review Editor

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Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy (2003)
Eire, Carlos
New York: Free Press
Language: English

Eire has written a moving and informative memoir. He is a man caught between the Cuban culture of his early childhood and the American culture of his late childhood and adulthood. He was living a typical upper-class life in Havana until Castro took over. Shortly thereafter, in 1962, he was one of 14,000 children airlifted to the US and exiled from his family and his country. It was a dramatic turning point in his personal life and that of his country. The language of the book is English but I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in modern history in general and in the Spanish-speaking world, in particular.
- Recommended by Christine Foster Meloni, Culture Club Editor

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Díaz, Junot
N.Y.: Riverhead Books

2007
See English version below

Esta nube fatalista domina toda la novela, desde el título y la exposición preliminar del fukú, "the Curse and the Doom of the New World." El fukú se asocia sobre todo con la R.D. y específicamente con el dominio de Trujillo, el dictador cruel y duradero y, al mismo tiempo, "the Curse’s servant or its master, its agent or its principal, but it was clear he and it had an understanding, that them two was tight." Es evidente también que la manipulación adueñada del fukú de Trujillo aseguró una vida muy precaria para todos los domicanos. Así conocemos la historia de los padres de Oscar y Lola, de su abuelo, un doctor sobresaliente y apolítico que finalmente se encuentra víctima del poder absoluto y tentacular de Trujillo, resultado de un desconocido pecadillo que adquirió una dimensión extraordinaria. Después de su encarcelamiento, los otros miembros de la familia, con excepción de la bebé, que será la madre de nuestro héroe, perecen, por lo general bajo circunstancias sospechosas; y el doctor mismo muere después de ser torturado por los años que pasó en una carcel infame. El tema de ciencia ficción se extiende a través de la novela y sirve de metáfora para el mundo estrafalario, fatalista y fabuloso que rodea a Oscar, ya sea en los EEUU o en la R.D. Quizás sea su antídoto, su medio de escapar del mundo; pero así representa igualmente una cruz imaginaria que tiene que llevar. Aunque Oscar escriba constantemente, sus escritos se quedan amontonados, no consumados, y su sueños de publicar sus novelas nunca se realizan. No obstante, a pesar de su carácter torpe e incurable y su falta de confianza en sí mismo, este héroe desdichado tiene su encanto, y su vida logra una cierta recompensa si no una apoteosis. Además, Oscar tiene sus admiradores, sobre todo su hermana, Lola, la novia por cierto tiempo del narrador, Yunior. Ella es la mejor amiga y partidaria de Oscar a través de todas sus dificultades y, de hecho, logra ser otro héroe en la novela. Su historia contrasta de manera distinta con la de Oscar; al menos su físico y su personalidad son opuestas; ella es atractiva, sociable, y se siente segura de sí misma y cómoda en el mundo. Sin duda es la persona que, al final, triunfa sobre el fukú. Díaz teje una narración y hace descripciones elocuentes con la jerga callejera de los dominicanos. Crea un mundo animado y vivo salpicado de envalentonamiento, humor, crueldad e irreverencia.
- Recomendado por James Hassell, Culture Club, Editor y comentarista de libros en Español

English version

Oscar, the Dominican-American hero of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, grew up in the Dominican Republic and the U.S., like his author. He acquired his literary, Spanglified name from the costume he wore to an undergraduate Halloween party, and like his namesake, Oscar Wilde, he was an outcast, though of a different persuasion.

Oscar is irredeemably "a fat sci-fi-reading nerd," obsessed with sex. He enters his teenage years with all the obsessive titillation of any teenager and never shakes it; his fantasy of getting laid seems just that, a fantasy, doomed to failure. He is just too much the pariah: "Has none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn’t have pulled a girl if his life depended on it. Couldn’t play sports for shit, or dominoes, was beyond uncoordinated, threw a ball like a girl. Had no knack for music or business or dance, no hustle, no rap, no G. And most damning of all: no looks." This sense of doom pervades the novel, beginning with its title and the introductory exposition of fukú, "the Curse and the Doom of the New World." Fukú is mostly associated with the D.R. and particularly with the reign of Trujillo, the enduring and cruel dictator as well as "the Curse’s servant or its master, its agent or its principal, but it was clear he and it had an understanding, that them two was tight."

It is also clear that Trujillo’s proprietary manipulation of fukú made life extremely precarious for all Dominicans. And so we come to learn of Oscar and Lola’s parentage, of their grandfather, a renowned, apolitical doctor who eventually falls victim to Trujillo’s tentacular, absolute powers, the result of some unknown peccadillo blown into majestic proportions. After his fall, the rest of the family, with the exception of the youngest daughter, our hero’s mother, perishes, most under very dubious circumstances; and the doctor himself dies after years of torture in one of Trujillo’s notorious prisons. The sci-fi theme pervades the entire book and serves as a grand metaphor for the zany, fatalistic, fabulous world that surrounds Oscar, whether in the U.S. or the D.R. It may also be his antidote, his source of escape from the world, but, as such, it is likewise a fanciful cross he must bear. Though Oscar writes incessantly, curiously his novels merely pile up, and his dream to publish them is never realized. Yet, in spite of his incurable nerdiness and general lack of self-assurance, this hapless hero is not unlikable, and his life does attain some recompense if not apotheosis. Oscar does have his admirers, especially his sister, Lola, the one-time girlfriend of the narrator, Yunior. She remains Oscar’s best friend and advocate throughout Oscar’s trials and, in fact, becomes a hero in her own right. Her story contrasts neatly with Oscar’s, as she is very much his opposite, at least physically and socially: outgoing, attractive, self-assured, and adept in the world. It is undoubtedly she who, in the end, may have outwitted the fukú.

Díaz intersperses eloquent narrative and description with the street talk of young Dominicans. He creates a lively and animated world full of bravado, humor, cruelty and irreverence. Oscar, el héroe dominicano-americano de The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, creció en la República Dominicana y en los EEUU, como su autor. Adquirió su apellido literario, castellanizado, por el disfraz que llevó a una fiesta de Halloween en la universidad. Y como su tocayo, Oscar Wilde, era un marginado, aún de carácter diferente. Oscar es categoricamente "a fat sci-fi-reading nerd," obsesionado con el sexo. Llega a la adolescencia impulsado por la excitación de cualquier persona de su edad y nunca la pierde; pero su deseo sexual queda únicamente a nivel de deseo, condenado al fracaso. Es un paria: "Has none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn’t have pulled a girl if his life depended on it. Couldn’t play sports for shit, or dominoes, was beyond uncoordinated, threw a ball like a girl. Had no knack for music or business or dance, no hustle, no rap, no G. And most damning of all: no looks."
- Recommended by James Hassell, Culture Club Spanish Language Book Review Editor

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Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude)
García Marquez, Gabriel .
In Cien Años de Soledad, Nobel Prize winning author, Garcia Marquez creates a world with its own physical rules, its own gods and its own destiny. The story follows 100 years in the history of Macondo, a village founded by José Arcadio Buendía and occupied by his sons and grandsons, all sporting variations of their ancestor’s name. Then there are the women – the two Úrsulas, a handful of Remedios, Fernanda, and Pilar – who struggle to remain grounded even as their men build castles in the air. If it is possible for a novel to be highly comic and deeply tragic at the same time, then this book does the trick.
–Recommended by Anna Ohlsson

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Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) - 1981
García Marquez, Gabriel
This is a very powerful book by the famous Nobel Prize winning Colombian author Gabriel García Marquez. Santiago Nasar is killed in a small village in Colombia. Twenty–seven years later a witness in the first person tells the events leading up to the murder. An interesting twist is that the narrator is omniscient and conveys the thoughts of all of the leading characters in the drama. Although the reader knows that a murder is going to take place and who will die, the steps leading to the murder are not known and there is, therefore, a strong sense of suspense. The main theme is the question of male honor in Latin American culture. As in Marquez’s other novels, this one has an element.
- Recommended by Christine Foster Meloni

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Cuando era puertorriqueña (When I Was Puerto Rican)
Santiago, Esmeralda. (1994)
Vintage Español, Vintage Books, New York.

Cuando era puertorriqueña is Emeralda's memoir packed full of the wonder, excitement, fears, frustrations, anger, and joy of her childhood. Her family is a large and loving one, although her parents do not seem to be able to live together. She idolizes her carpenter-poet father and respects her mother who works to support their growing family. School is hard for Esmeralda and the reader glimpses how the rural population reacted to federal programs such as school lunches when they were instituted in Puerto Rico. The family is up-rooted first by a move to San Juan where they search for housing, employment, and a place in the community, and finally by a move to New York City where 13-year-old Esmeralda begins to search for her own identity, trying to merge her 'Puerto Rican-ness' and her 'New York City-ness' with moderate success. The language is accessible for intermediate readers and above in Spanish. The content is good for middle school through adult.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey

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Déjame que te cuente... (Let Me Tell You a Story.)
By Bucay, Jorge
This collection of stories is narrated by a young man in therapy. His psychoanalyst, aka the Buddha and the "fat man", uses a story, in each session, to illuminate the lessons that the younger man, Demi�n, is learning. One of the most chilling is the "Rule of 99," which tells of an arrogant king who corrupts his poor but happy servant with a gift of 99 gold pieces. This story was unfamiliar, while many are commonly known, but all are thought-provoking and reading them is much easier than getting to weekly appointments.
- Recommended by Pat Bartoshesky

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Del amor y otros demonios
Gabriel García Márquez
Barcelona: Mondadori (Grijalbo Comercial, S.A.)
1994

See review in English below

García Márquez se distingue no sólo de narrador sino de inventor de títulos llamativos. Del amor y otros demonios pertenece a los mejores. Su ritmo sensual evoca y aumenta las intrigas y los sentidos sugeridos de la vidas desentrañadas través de sus páginas. Comienza con la exhumación del cuerpo de una niña cuyo pelo habrá seguido creciendo durante los 200 años después de su muerte. Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles era la única hija de un noble melancólico y sentimental, que consagraba sus días a una vida de ociosidad indiferente, y de una madre agresiva y egoista cuya promiscuidad se hizo legendaria. Su matrimonio concertado y siempre conflictivo hizo que la pareja alienada vivía separados dentro de la misma casa colonial amplia, mientras su cercanía agravaba el profundo odio y rencor que sentía el uno por el otro. En ese ambiente su hija abandonada se integró en el mundo dinámico y afectuoso de los esclavos africanos de la casa. Con ellos, aprendió varios idiomas africanos y adoptó la cultura de ellos que la adoptaron. Por lo tanto, nunca podía adaptarse enteramente a la vida ociosa y costumbres de su cultura nativa.

El narrador periodista nos lleva al día del doceno cumpleaños de Sierva María, día fatal en que le mordió un perro supuestamente rabioso. El perro murió poco después, pero la niña nunca demostró lo signos de la enfermedad. Sin embargo, por su carácter bastante raro, otros importantes supusieron que la hubiera contraído. Poco después del incidente su padre empezó a mostrarle el cariño paterno y trató de cuidarla, pero ya fue demasiado tarde, porque Sierva María ya se había distanciado de él y el obispo diocesano le había recomendadoBa saber, obligadoBque la confinara con las monjas clarisanas. Ahí, separada del mundo y de su familia, Sierva María se encontró prisionera en un claustro donde le trataron como un perro.

Sin embargo, Del amor y otros demonios es la historia no sólo de Sierva María, sino de aquéllos personajes cuyas vidas se entrelazaron a veces imprecisamente a veces intimamente con la suya. De hecho, García Márquez teje una tapicería de la vida durante los años decadentes de la época colonial: la falta de atención al mantenimiento estructuralBsigno de las relaciones decrecientes entre las Américas y España; la rigidez y las doctrinas anacrónicas de las autoridades eclesiásticas españolas, que ya perdieron la capacidad de entender y responder con compasión y flexibilidad a las realidades complicadas de la vida americana; el caos de la pobreza y la incapacidad de las autoridades de enfrentarla.

En este mundo Sierva María parece más víctima que demonio. Los que tienen el poder interpretan sus reacciones espontáneas y frecuentemente feroces más como signos de la rabia y posesión demónica que la expresión de defensa personal de una niña temerosa que no encaja con la cultura y tradición degradadas de su familia; ni siquiera pueden reconocer la libertad, sensualidad y vitalidad de la vida esclava que le era cómoda y habitual. Sierva María es la víctima del odio de su madre, del amor tardío de su padre débil e incapaz, la fantasía de las autoridades laicas y la crueldad y superstición de las eclesiásticas, que la someten ciegamente al exorcismo.

Aparte de los esclavos, cuyo cariño abundante y presciencia son reveladores, los únicos que la aman y valoran son el padre Delaura, un cura indígena que está en desacuerdo con su capacitación doctrinal, y, quizás, Martina Laborde, la única otra internada de las Clarisanas, otro individuo marginado cuyo solo deseo fue la libertad. De ellos, el padre Delaura tiene el carácter más desarrollado. Nombrado a exorcisar a Sierva María, este proceso toma otro sendero: los dos se enamoran perdidamente.

Esta novelita es una historia tanto de amor genuino y de maravillas como de amor alienado y deformado. Revela demonios imaginados y verdaderos que habitan la sociedad y los individuos e influyen en sus acciones hacia los otros. Como siempre, se encuentra absorto en la historia cautivadora de García Márquez. La única decepción, si se puede caracterizar de esa manera, es que el placer de leer termina demasiado rápido.
- Recomendado por James Hassell, Spanish Language Book Review Editor

ENGLISH

Of Love and other Demons is a title that belongs among the best. Its sultry rhythm evokes and enhances the intriguing and suggestive meanings of the lives unraveled in its pages. The story begins with the disinterment of the corpse of a young girl whose hair has apparently continued to grow over the 200 years since her burial. Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles was the only child of a melancholic nobleman, who spent his days in passive idleness, and of an aggressive, self-centered mother, whose sexual prolixity became legend. Their unhappy, arranged marriage caused the bewildered pair to pursue their lives separately within the confines of their large colonial home, while their proximity aggravated the long-seeded resentment and hatred between them. Under the circumstances, their daughter was left abandoned to the vibrant, affectionate world of the household=s African slaves. Among them, she learned to speak various African languages and adopted the earthy culture of those who embraced her. Never, then, would she fully adapt to the colonial leisure and customs to which she was born. On her 12th birthday, Sierva María is bitten by a rabid dog, and though she never exhibits the signs of the disease herself, her strange ways lead others to suspect her of having contracted it. Soon her father begins to take a caring and loving interest in her, but only too late, as the local bishop advises him to have her confined among the Clarissan nuns, where she is held as a prisoner and treated with neglect and scorn, much like a stray dog.

Of Love and Other Demons is a story not merely of Sierva María, however, but of those whose lives are intertwined sometimes loosely, sometimes intimately, with hers. Through them all, García Márquez paints a tapestry of life in the waning, decadent years of Spanish colonialism: the lack of attention to building maintenance, a sign of the declining connections between the Americas and Spain; the rigidity and anachronistic doctrines of Spanish church authorities, no longer able to appreciate and respond with understanding and flexibility to the complex realities of American life; the chaos of poverty and the inability of any authorities to address it. In this world, Sierva María appears more victim than demon. Her spontaneous, sometimes ferocious reactions to others represent to those in power a sign of rabies and demonic possession rather than the expression of self-defense and fear of a young girl out of sorts with her own debased heritage and culture, but at home with the freedom, sensuality and vitality of the slaves who cared for her. In effect, she is a victim of the hatred of her mother, the belated love of a spineless and ineffectual father, the whimsy of secular powers and the cruelty and superstition of church authorities, who blindly subject her to exorcism.

Besides the slaves, whose joyful love and prescience are revealing, the only others who truly love and appreciate her are Father Delaura, a native American priest at odds with his sacerdotal training, the man initially assigned to exorcize her but who falls madly in love with her, and, perhaps, Martina Laborde, the only other inmate among the Clarissans, another marginalized individual whose only desire is for her freedom.

This short novel is a marvelous story of genuine love and attention as well as of distorted love, of imagined demons and of real ones that inhabit society and individuals and influence their actions on others. As always with García Márquez’s captivating narrative, you will find yourself drawn ineluctably into the story. My only regret is that it ended so quickly.
- Recommended by James Hassell, Spanish Language Book Review Editor

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Don Quixote
By Cervantes
I have heard it said that Don Quixote should be read at least three times in your life; in youth, middle age, and old age. Following this advice, I’m on one of the higher number of "reads," but nevertheless, I believe it is good advice. This read was in preparation for a class presentation and I found myself taking on a new opinion of the story’s events and characters. In my younger years, I viewed Don Quixote, the character, as rather insane and quite silly. Now, I can understand how a passion can consume your life and that madness is in the eye of the beholder and of course, the victim, as well. My love for the Spanish language and desire to live and breathe it has sent me on some adventures similar to Don Quixote’s fight with the windmills. And then a new light fell on Sancho Panza as well. In my younger years, I criticized his ability to govern the island that he so longed to rule and now I realize that sometimes when you finally get what you want, you don’t want it anymore. Yes, yes there are still things I want, but I am much more selective and a lot less upset when I don’t get them. And then there’s Don Quixote’s love and devotion to Dulcinea. As a youth, I was disappointed that he couldn't have picked someone at least a little more glamorous, but now I see that it’s more fun to dream than to try to correct reality. My middle age read was an insightful and peaceful one. I look forward to my "old age read" and wonder how my ever–changing opinion will take play on the great novel Don Quixote.
- Recommended by Margarita Riley

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El Alquimista: Una Fabula Para Seguir Tus Suenos
By Coelho, Paulo
Once in a great while, a truly life–altering book is written and you feel personally responsible for making sure the whole world knows about it – and reads it. El Alquimista is one such book. Master storyteller Coelho weaves a compelling yarn in this short, mystical story about having the courage to follow one"s dream and the faith and determination to see it through. Follow Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd boy, on an unforgettable journey from Spain, through Morocco, to the Pyramids of Egypt, and share in the profound life lessons he acquires from each encounter. There may be parts of the book that seem repetitive, but stick with it – the end is not as predictable as you may think, and I guarantee that you will come away with ample food for thought. A modern day classic.
- Recommended by Ephy Amoah-Ntim

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El Bosque de los Pigmeos - 2004
By Allende, Isabel
El Bosque de los Pigmeos, the second novel in Isabel Allende’s trilogy for middle school age readers, once again invites the reader along on the travels of Alex, his Grandmother Kate, and his friend Nadia. Kate, a writer for International Geographic magazine, takes Alex and Nadia with her on an assignment to the thick jungles of central Africa. They travel from the city over land and up a river into the jungle. As in the first two books, Allende’s skillful descriptive phrasing treats her readers to wonderful glimpses of the geography, flora and fauna of the African jungle, as well as the people who populate that area. They discover that the dictator is impersonating an army general and a holy man to maintain his hold over the slave population; greed is the basis for his actions. Typical of Allende’s writings, there are elements of reality, magic, fantasy, and fact all woven into a believable and fun read. El Bosque de los Pigmeos provides good reading for students and adults alike. The Spanish is accessible to students who are in advanced levels of Spanish, to adults who are rusty readers, and to anyone of any age who is comfortable reading in Spanish. The Spanish versions are available in either the teen reading or Spanish language sections of any big book store, such as Border’s. The English versions are usually found in the teen section. They are also available from Amazon.
– Recommended by Sheila W. Cockey

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El Capitán Alatriste
Pérez-Reverte, Arturo
Alfaguara, Madrid, 1997

See Review in English Below

capitan_al

Acabo de leer un libro sumamente divertido e interesante – El Capitán Alatriste por Arturo Pérez-Reverte – y ahora voy corriendo en busca del segundo en la serie de cinco. Ubicado en la Madrid del siglo diecisiete durante el reino de Felipe IV, conocemos a personajes tan distintas como Francisco de Quevedo, Luís de Góngora, y el Conde-Duque de Olivares.

Pasamos por las calles de Madrid con Iñigo Balboa, un joven quien le cuida al personaje principal, Diego Alatriste y Tenorio. El Capitán Alatriste es un soldado jubilado del ejército español a causa de heridas ganadas durante la guerra en Flandes. Ahora vive en Madrid ganándose la vida vendiendo su destreza con la espada en la defensa del honor de los nobles – o de quienquiera le paga. Participamos en las aventuras de un espadachín que camina la línea entre lo que sí es legal y lo que no lo es mientras trata de sobrevivir y vivir con orgullo.

La receta para el éxito de este libro es un salpicón de lo picaresco, un salpicón de la capa y daga, y un salpicón del melodrama, mezclado con un puñado grandísimo de diversión. El otoño del 2006 vio la aparencia de la película basada en el libro – estén seguros, lectores, que voy a ver la película y Ustedes van a tener una reseña de ella pronto.
- Recomendado por Sheila Cockey.

English

Captain Alatriste
Pérez-Reverte, Arturo
Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden
Plume-Penguin Group, 2005

I have just finished reading a truly exciting and interesting book – Captain Alatrise by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – and now I am running off to find the second in this series of five. Set in 17th century Madrid during the reign of Philip IV, the reader meets such distinguished and well-known individuals as the poets Francisco de Quevedo and Luís de Góngora, and the king’s principal advisor, the Count-Duke of Olivares.

We walk the streets of Madrid with Íñigo Balboa, a young teen who is in the service of the main character, Diego Alatriste y Tenorio. Captain Alatriste has retired from the Spanish army because of wounds suffered in the wars in Flanders. Now he lives in Madrid earning his living by selling his skill as a swordsman in defense of the honor of various nobles – or of whoever pays him. We participate in adventures of our swashbuckling hero who walks the line between what is legal and what isn’t while he tries to survive and live with pride.

The recipe for the success of this book is a dash of the picaresque, a dash of the cloak and dagger, and a dash of the melodrama, with a whole lot of fun thrown in on top. The fall of 2006 saw the film version of this novel appear – be assured that I am going to watch this movie and write a review of it soon.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

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El Entierro de Cortijo (Cortijo’s Wake)
Rodríguez Juliá, Edgardo
Bilingual edition. Duke University Press, 2004.

See English Review below

Rodríguez Juliá le puso a su obra el nombre de crónica; y si la consideramos un documental cultural de un funeral y una fiesta que tienen lugar en un barrio marginal de San Juan, Puerto Rico, entonces el término crónica le conviene; pero si vemos en ella un cuento descriptivo de los personajes, los barrios y la generación que distinguen al Puerto Rico de la segunda mitad del siglo XX, sus raíces se extienden profundamente dentro de la historia literaria. El funeral de Cortijo sirve de escenario para una procesión fúnebre y de este modo se va a orquestar una variación moderna del tema de los Cuentos de Canterbury: el peregrinaje. Así, el barroco vivo que repercute con gente de clases y culturas diversas y que se mueve al compás estridente de las vidas y eventos que nacen, se metamorfosean, van in crescendo, desaparecen y, a veces, surgen de nuevo, recuerda los dibujos itinerantes de Chaucer.

El pretexto de este entierro festivo es el fallecimiento y el funeral del famoso percusionista y director de banda Rafael Cortijo, quien logró superar las condiciones empobrecidas y maléficas del barrio Santurce que lo rodearon durante su juventud. Sin embargo, a pesar de que su éxito profesional lo dotó de respeto y admiración, no le permitió derribar las barreras del racismo, diferencias de clase y marginación que fragmentaban su Puerto Rico.

Al final del viaje, con el último descanso del héroe y de su época, al volver a la rutina, "la tradición estalla en mil pedazos conflictivos"; ¿y luego? ¿nos encontramos vacíos, callados, perdidos? ¿o sea, el funeral no sólo es una celebración elegíaca de la vida y la muerte de Cortijo sino también un homenaje al tono cíclico de la vida, la muerte y la resurrección, como se pregunta el autor: "¿cómo conciliar tanto extravío con tanta ternura?"

El editor y traductor, Juan Flores, en una introducción llena de información, presenta al lector el autor y contextualiza al músico y a sus colegas en su tiempo y su ambiente social y musical. Su traducción expresa bien el carácter del lenguaje original, que se complica por sus múltiples registros idiosincrásicos. En esta edición se incluyen además algunas fotos del entierro de Cortijo y reproducciones de las pinturas hechas por el músico y artista Rafael Ferrer, amigo de Cortijo, después del entierro.
- Recomendado por James Hassell

English Review
Rodríguez Juliá describes his story as a chronicle; and if we think of it as a cultural account of a funeral and its celebration in a marginal neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, then chronicle undoubtedly best characterizes the work. If, however, we see it as a descriptive narrative of the characters, neighborhoods and generation that distinguish Puerto Rican life of the late 20th century, then its roots seem to reach far more deeply into literary history. Cortijo’s funeral becomes the stage for a lively procession–a funeral march, so to speak–and, as such, is a delightfully modern variation on the Canterbury Tales pilgrimage theme. Indeed, the baroque zaniness that resounds with people of diverse social backgrounds and cultures and that zigzags with strident beats in and out of the lives and events that arise, metamorphose, reach a crescendo, then disappear, perhaps to return later, reminds one of Chaucer’s vagabond sketches.

The pretext for this festive entierro is the death and funeral of the famous percussionist and bandleader, Rafael Cortijo, who achieved success in spite of growing up in the baleful, impoverished barrios of Santurce. Yet, though his professional success endowed him with some respect and admiration, it did not allow him to surmount the discordant barriers of racism, class and general alienation that fragmented his Puerto Rico. Ironically, the self-conscious, attentive narrator has timorously ventured into these colorful and sonorous–indeed noisy, uncomfortable–streets, as alien to him–a fellow Puerto Rican–as he is to them; and it is here, amid the frightening exuberance and syncopated turmoil, that his thoughts find rhythm.

At the end of the journey, with the final repose of a hero and an era, with the return to routine, "tradition burst into a thousand clashing pieces"; are we then left empty, still and hopeless? or is the funeral not only an elegiac celebration of Cortijo’s life and death but also a tribute to the cyclical pitch of life, death, and resurrection, as the writer then muses: "how are we to reconcile so much madness with so much tenderness? " For me the end was a joyful appreciation of the journey; and it was also a beginning: an impetus now to discover the music and legacy of Cortijo and his contemporaries.

The editor and translator, Juan Flores, provides a very informative, contextualized introduction to the writer, the story and the musical life of Cortijo and his musical colleagues. His translation reflects well the expressive quality of the language of the original text, which is made complex by its multiple, idiosyncratic registers. This edition also includes photos of the funeral and reproductions of the paintings completed by Rafael Ferrer, musician, artist and friend of Cortijo, after the funeral.
- Recommended by James Hassell, Spanish Language Book Review Editor

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El juego del ángel

Zafón, Carlos Ruiz

Planeta

667 páginas

2008

See English review below

El juegoUbicado en Barcelona al principio del siglo XX, el lector sigue la vida de David Martín, un escritor de ficción.  Tiene sus demonios que siempre le amenazan y le requieren hacer cosas que están en contra de lo que quiere hacer.  Por sus andanzas por Barcelona el lector conoce bien a la ciudad y la gente de aquel entonces.  Es un prequel a La sombra del viento que apareció hace unos años.  Hay muchas semejanzas entre el tema, la trama, y los personajes de las dos novelas.  Tiene elementos de intriga, de misterio, de mágica todo escrito en un estilo bello y lírico.  Si a usted le gusta leer novelas que están al borde entre la realidad y la fantasía, este libro es suyo.

English Review

Located in Barcelona at the beginning of the twentieth century, the reader follows the life of David Martín, a fiction writer.  He has his demons that are always threatening him and require that he do things that go against his better sense.  By means of his wanderings through Barcelona, the reader gets to know the city and its people very well.  The novel is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind that appears a few years ago.  There are many similarities between the theme, the plot, and the characters of the two novels.  It has elements of intrigue, mystery, and magic, all written in a beautifully lyrical style.  If you like to read novels that sit on the edge between reality and fantasy, this book is yours.  Not yet available in English.

- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

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El Señor Presidente (Mr. President)
By Asturias, Miguel Angel
This book represents magical realism at its best. El Señor Presidente utilizes the tools of magical realism to convey intertwined stories of human rights violations by a dictatorship, presented in the novel. The novel has a poetic flow that invokes thoughtful reflection on the emotions of the characters in the reader. The book is fictional, but based on reality, and truly allows the reader to look at the world and society from various perspectives and admire the value of human rights. Where does it take place?
-Recommended by Tamara Shogaolu

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El Zorro: Comienza La Leyenda
Isabel Allende 2005
Available from
http://amazon.com
See English review below.

La leyenda popular del Zorro, quien defendía a los desafortunados que vivían en la California del imperio español, ha engendrado una gran variedad de interpretaciones, desde un programa de televisión de los años cincuenta hasta una película de los noventa. La más reciente interpretación apareció hace un año en la forma de una novela escrita por Isabel Allende: la historia del joven Diego de la Vega y la creación de su alter-ego, El Zorro.

Ubicada en Alta California y España, y llena de personajes y sucesos tanto reales como imaginarios, esta novela nos da los antecedentes, el entrenamiento, y la motivación para lo que va a ser la versión americana de Robin Hood. La novela tiene una riqueza de cultura e historia, de igualdades y desigualdades sociales, de entusiasmo juvenil y responsabilidades adultas, presentando al lector una serie de acontecimientos humorísticos y serios a la vez.

Hijo de un terrateniente que también es alcalde de Los Angeles y de una doncella indígena, Diego es el producto de estas dos culturas tan distintas. De niño, lucha sin mucho éxito para equilibrar las dos vidas. De joven, su padre le envía a España para aprender los modos y maneras de la alta sociedad y mientras está allí, afina su sentido de la justicia. Esto, junto a las creencias y sabiduría del pueblo de su madre, hace que nazca El Zorro y regresa a California a hacer justicia.

Por todas las aventuras de Diego, el estilo de Allende transporta al lector directamente dentro de la acción, donde participa en el humor, el dolor, la ira, o la vergüenza de lo que ocurre. Todos los personajes son complejos y creíbles dentro del contexto de la historia que nos relata. Su cuento del joven Diego de la Vega completa el ciclo de la vida de este personaje de una manera que satisface.

Esta novela está disponible en inglés y español. La versión en español es accesible si se tiene un buen dominio de la lengua.
- Recomendado por Sheila Cockey

English

Zorro: A Novel
Isabel Allende 2005
Translation: Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers

The popular legend of Zorro, defender of the downtrodden in the California of Spain’s colonial empire, has engendered a variety of interpretations, from a TV program of the late 1950’s to a widely acclaimed movie of the 1990’s. One of the latest variations on the theme to enter the media arena is Isabel Allende’s story of the young Diego de la Vega and his creation of the Zorro alter-ego.

Located in Upper California and Spain, and populated by real and fictional characters and episodes, this eminently readable novel gives the background, training, and motivation for what would become the US version of Robin Hood. The novel is rich in culture and history, social equalities and inequalities, teenage rambunctiousness and adult responsibilities, providing the reader with humorous and serious events.

The son of a Spanish landowner and mayor of Los Angeles and an Indian maiden, Diego is the product of these two highly divergent cultures. As a young child he struggles to find a balance between the two life styles, without much success. As a young adult, his father sends him to Spain for schooling in the life and style of a grandee, and while there his sense of what is right and just is finely honed. Combined with the beliefs and knowledge of his mother’s people, Zorro is born and returns to California to mete out justice.

Throughout his adventures, Allende’s style is transcendent, bringing the reader directly into the action, directing a sense of humor, sorrow, anger, or indignity at what is happening. All of the characters are full and believable within the context of the tale she tells. Her story of the young Diego de la Vega completes the life cycle of this intriguing figure in a very satisfying way.

This novel is available in both English and Spanish. The Spanish version is easily read by someone who has a good working knowledge of Spanish.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language FilmReview Editor

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Hija de la Fortuna (Daughter of Fortune)
By Allende, Isabel
Chilean author Isabel Allende knows how to tell a story that will enthrall her readers and her new novel is no exception. She tells the adventures of Eliza Sommers, a girl orphaned at birth and raised in Valparaiso, Chile, by an English spinster and her brother. Eliza falls in love with Joaquin Andieta and, after he leaves her to join the Gold Rush in California, the pregnant girl decides to follow him. She meets a Chinese herbal doctor and travels with him as she tries to find Joaquin. It is a fascinating story with rich descriptions of the British colony in Valparaiso and of the multicultural world of northern California. For readers who do not read Spanish, this book is widely available in the US in its English language translation.
-Recommended by Christine Foster Meloni

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Juan El Jardinero
Aardvark, E.S. , Author
Dirk Zimmer, Illustrator
Macaronic Press
2006

Macaronic Press publishes books for children that are translated into several languages. Jake the Gardener is a lavishly-illustrated book about Jake, a seeing-eye dog, who helps Granny care for her granddaughter Maggie.

One day Jake finds a bag of seeds that Grandfather had sent home while on one of his sailing trips. He and Maggie plant the seeds, and a fabulous garden blooms filled with exotic plants from all over the world. People from many countries come to see this garden. The book ends with a fantastic international party! Available from amazon.com or buy.com. Appropriate for children ages 3-8 and language learners of any age.
- Recommended by Jill Robbins, NCLRC

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La Casa de los espiritus - 1985
By Allende, Isabel
Cleverly combining the natural and supernatural worlds, Isabel Allende, one of Latin American literature’s best-known authors, captivates readers in the dramatic saga of the Trueba family in this South American bestseller. Allende skillfully recounts the strife, friction and rivalry through the generations brought on by political and societal differences, as they struggle to maintain a tenuous family bond through love, spirituality and mysticism.
- Recommended by Marie Hernandez

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La Ciudad de las Bestias (City of the Beasts) - 2002
By Allende, Isabel
The City of the Beasts, the first novel in Isabel Allende’s trilogy for middle school age readers, invites the reader along on the travels of Alex, his Grandmother Kate, and his friend Nadia. Kate, a writer for International Geographic magazine, takes Alex with her on an assignment to South America. Alex meets his friend Nadia on this first trip and the two of them become fast friends and soul mates. They travel up the Amazon and into southern Venezuela’s land of the tepuis. Allende’s skillful descriptive phrasing treats her readers to wonderful glimpses of the geography, flora and fauna of the Amazon basin, as well as the people who populate that area. An element of intrigue enters with shady characters who are trying to buy up all of the land so they can develop timber and mining industries. Typical of Allende’s writings, there are elements of reality, magic, fantasy, and fact all woven into a believable and fun read. Originally written in Spanish with an excellent English translation, City of the Beasts provides good reading for students and adults alike. The Spanish is accessible to students who are in advanced levels of Spanish, to adults who are rusty readers, and to anyone of any age who is comfortable reading in Spanish. The Spanish versions are available in either the teen reading or Spanish language sections of any big bookstore, such as Border’s. The English versions are usually found in the teen section. They are also available from Amazon.
– Recommended by Sheila W. Cockey

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La loca de Gandoca

Rossi, Anacristina

Editorial Legado

114 páginas

2007

See English review below

Anacristina Rossi, autora, periodista, y traductora costarricense, escribe sobre los asuntos de las mujeres indígenas y el medio ambiente.  Muchas de sus novelas tienen lugar en la provincia de Limón y comunican su pasión y amor por lo que escribe.

Se conoce a Costa Rica como un país que da énfasis a la ecología y programas de preservación del medio ambiente.  Lea este libro para enterarse de la lucha local para poner tierras biodiversas en la lista de tierras cuidadas por el gobierno.  Camina con la personaje principal, Daniela (La Loca de Gandoca), mientras ella encabeza una campaña para detener y poner fin a proyectos de desarrollo en la costa caribeña, y sobre todo en el Refugio de Gandoca, un lugar de mucha diversidad biológica. 

Basado en una campaña auténtica para rescatar y salvar el refugio, Daniela explora los corredores laberínticos de los despachos gubernamentales en busca de gente dispuesta a esforzar las fuertes leyes constitucionales promulgadas para conservar el medio ambiente.  Abundan burócratas quienes están metidos en los planes para el desarrollo de Gandoca y quienes frustran los tentativos de Daniela, pero ella nunca se rinde.

El lenguaje del libro está salpicado con expresiones regionalistas, que la dan un sabor rico, mientras tanto sigue siendo bastante fácil leer para un lector no nativo.  Hay humor, ira, tragedia, y sobre todo, esperanza en este corto y poderoso libro provocador.

English Review

La loca de Gandoca

Rossi, Anacristina

Editorial Legado

114 pages

Anacristina Rossi is a Costa Rican writer, journalist, and translator who focuses on indigenous women’s issues and the environment.  Many of her novels take place in the province of Limón, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and are based on actual events.  Rossi’s prose is poetic and conveys a deep love of her subjects.

Costa Rica is known for its emphasis on ecology and environmental preservation programs.  Read this book to find out about local struggles to get lands onto governmental oversight lists.  Follow the main character, Daniela (The Crazy Lady of Gandoca), as she heads the campaign to halt huge construction projects that will heavily impact the environment along the Caribbean coast. 

Based on a real campaign to rescue and save the refuge, Daniela explores the labyrinthine halls of national, regional and local governmental offices in search of people willing to enforce the strong constitutional laws enacted to preserve the environment.  Rife with decision-makers who are personally involved in development plans, she is frustrated at every turn, but never gives up. 

The Spanish is sprinkled with regionalisms, which gives it spice while remaining very easy to read for a non-native Spanish reader.  There is humor, anger, tragedy, and above all, hope to be had in this short but powerful and provocative book.

- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

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La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South)
By Perez–Reverte, Arturo
This novel, based on actual evidence, details the story of a woman named Teresa Mendoza over the course of twelve years. During this period, her boyfriend is murdered and Teresa takes over his dangerous position in the drug trade. Through dealings with the Spanish, Russian, Italian, and French mafias, the "Queen of the South&quot manages to build a powerful empire from virtually nothing in the male–dominated world of drug trafficking.
-Recommended by Erin Webreck

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Limpieza de sangre
Arturo Pérez-Reverte
México: Alfaguara, 1998.
See English Review below

En este episodio de la vida del Capitán Alatriste, héroe veterano de las novelas de Arturo Pérez-Reverte, el autor mezcla una aventura de capa y espada con observaciones agudas sobre el débil reinado de Felipe IV. El narrador, Iñigo, recuerda un momento de su vida, en 1623, en el cual ayudó a su intrépido amo, Alatriste, y al ingenioso poeta Francisco de Quevedo, fiel compañero de los dos, a rescatar a una joven señorita de las garras tiránicas de un convento vuelto burdel personal de unos sacerdotes poderosos y rapaces. “Tampoco era sorprendente,” comenta el narrador fatalista, “tratándose de clérigos galanes, verlos recurrir a un lenguaje de tono místico-amatorio a lo divino, ni disimular bajo suberfugios espirituales lo que no eran sino humanas pasiones y apetitos, ambición y lujuria.” Cuando se malogró el intento, Iñigo, que tenía 13 años de edad en la época, se encontró preso de la Inquisición.

El rescate estará condenado al fracaso desde un principio, al parecer por informantes, aunque nunca se revelan las circunstancias. Lo importante del evento es que sirve de catalizador para que sus compañeros encuentren la solución al problema principal, es decir, liberar a Iñigo de las garras ilimitadas de la Inquisición, las cuales se habían extendido por todo el gobierno y sociedad. Las artimañas y fuerzas de Alatriste y Quevedo serán puestas a prueba; a saber, ¿será posible que dos individuos, por muy honrados e indómitos que sean, puedan superar los tentáculos enigmáticos y omnipresentes del poder institucional de la Inquisición?

La novela centra así la atención en la obsesión malévola de la Inquisición por limpiar la sociedad española de todos los vestigios de sangre judía o musulmana. Aunque la herencia de Iñigo parece sin mancha, su participación en el secuestro frustrado le da a la Inquisición la oportunidad de fabricar pruebas falsas pero irrefutables de su culpabilidad. Por este motivo, Alatriste y Quevedo se ven obligados a recurrir a alianzas, sobornos y chantaje para liberarlo.

Limpieza de sangre es una aventura de hombres dispuestos a defender su honor a la más mínima provocación; de comentarios fatalistas de Iñigo atravesados por una espada temeraria, y de individuos que luchan por mantener su integridad y responsabilidad social contra instituciones ciegas, farisaicas y poderosas. En este ambiente, la llama de la razón se debilita frente a los fuegos de la superstición y la justificación moralista.

De vez en cuando, la narración parece transparente o escrita con apuro; a otros momentos, lleva a callejones sin salida decepcionantes. Una vez el capitán, de costumbre muy racional y reflexivo, toma una decisión imprudente y contraria a su carácter. Este error es poco convincente; sin embargo, la situación desesperada en que se encuentra se vuelve cómica por la entrada de la sobrina del villano, Angélica. Ya preso por el encanto y belleza de Angélica, Iñigo describe lo que sucede así: “asiéndolo lindamente por el brazo de la daga, lo mordió como un pequeño perro de presa, rubio y feroz.” Al final, a pesar de las inconsistencias de la novela, los comentarios generalmente sombríos de Iñigo sobre varias instituciones del reinado de Felipe IV, su sentido de humor magnánimo, sus comentarios irónicos y provocadores, y las intrigas de personajes complicados dan lugar a una lectura muy amena.
- Recomendado por James Hassell, Editor

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Purity of Blood - 2006
Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1997.

This swashbuckling adventure in the life of Pérez-Reverte’s veteran hero, Captain Alatriste, blends mystery and intrigue with trenchant reflections on the feeble reign of a young King Philip IV. The narrator, Iñigo, recalls a moment in 1623 when, at age 13, he was trapped by the Inquisition in an abortive attempt to help his guardian, the intrepid Alatriste, and their constant companion, the witty and incisive poet Francisco de Quevedo, free a woman from the tyrannical grip of a convent turned private bordello by predatory priests. It was not unusual, comments the don Iñigo, to see clerics who preyed on women employ a mystic‑amatory language that evoked the divine, nor veil prurient passions and appetites, ambition and lust, under the guise of spiritual exercises.

The rescue was doomed from the outset, apparently by informants, though no full explanation is ever revealed. Instead, the event serves as a catalyst for the primary dilemma, how to free Iñigo from the unfettered clutches of the Inquisition. Alatriste and Quevedo’s wiles and bravado are stretched to the limits. Indeed, how can 2 honorable individuals, as indomitable as they seem, overcome the chaotic, pervasive talons of the Inquisition’s institutional power and corruption?

The novel thus focuses attention on the Inquisition’s obsessive and malevolent determination to purge Spanish society of all traces of Moslem or Jewish heritage. Though Iñigo’s blood seems unquestionable, his participation in the attempted abduction from the convent inevitably leads to unfounded, yet indisputable proofs of guilt, and it is only through allegiances, pay‑offs and blackmail that he emerges free. Purity of Blood is a story of men poised to defend their honor at the slightest provocation, of Iñigo’s fatalistic historical commentaries pierced by the rash sword, of individuals struggling to preserve a modicum of integrity and social responsibility against blind, sanctimonious institutions, of reason’s faint flame waning before the consuming fires of superstition and righteous self‑justification. Occasionally, the story seems hurriedly written and excessively transparent; at others, it leads the reader to unresolved dead-ends.

Once, the very rational and deliberate Alatriste makes a disappointingly uncharacteristic blunder in judgment, which, nevertheless, leads to a desperate situation charmingly counterpointed by the wildly amusing arrival of the villain’s niece and object of Iñigo’s affections, Angélica. She fastened on to the arm with the dagger and bit into him like a small blond bulldog.Indeed, while Iñigo’s recollections generally cast a bleak, sulfurous glow on various institutions of Philip IVof Spain, his magnanimous sense of humor, his ironic and incisive quips and provocations, and the intriguing story and cast of complex characters make for a thoroughly enjoyable read.
-Recommended by James Hassell, Spanish Book Review Editor.

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Lluvia de Oro (Rain of Gold). (1999)
By Villaseñor, Victor
Also available in English as Rain of Gold, Victor Villaseñor takes you on a colorful and passionate journey from the rural pueblos (small towns) surviving the brutal Mexican Revolution to the rebellious days of bootlegging during Prohibition in California. Villaseñor parallels these two worlds through history, culture and love. A definite page–turner.
– Recommended by Isela Guzmán

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Mal de Amores (Lovesick)
By Mastretta, Angeles
The novel follows the life of Emilia Sauri, a woman who yearns to become a doctor in a time when female physicians are rare. Born in the midst of political chaos at turn of the century Mexico, Emilia is torn between two loves: Daniel, her childhood sweetheart turned political activist, who is an unstable and inconsistent force in her life, but whose very intensity only adds fuel to the fire of Emilia’s passion for him...and Antonio, the kind and gentle doctor who shares her love of medicine and provides her with security and unconditional love. Mastretta masterfully weaves Mexico’s traditions and turbulent history into the tale of Emilia’s love triangle, concluding with an unexpected twist.
- Recommended by Isela Guzman

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Matar a Pablo Escobar

Bowden, Mark (trad. Claudio Molinari)

Barcelona: RBA Libros, S.A.

2007

Mark Bowden=s account of the life of Pablo Escobar, the drug czar of the Medellín cartel in the 1980s and early 1990s, is a fascinating story of one man=s rise from a modest, middle class family to a life of savage power and immense wealth. As a young man, Escobar began quickly and ruthlessly to consolidate his criminal domain through roughshod violence and pay-offs. His ability to play the system, to exploit the routine corruption of Colombian officials, and to eliminate rivals, is not only notorious, at times it is even amusingly masterful.

During much of his adult life, Escobar remained in hiding, a man on the edge, and for that reason, his character is enigmatic. Nevertheless, some of his tastes escape from the obscurityBhis predilection for young teenage girls and large baths, for example; but mostly it is his mental disposition that intrigues--his devotion to family and community, his sensitivity to public image, etc.

Bowden does an especially fine job of delving into the mysterious efforts of the Colombian authorities to isolate and capture the fugitive in the 1990s. The Colombians were assisted and strongly pushed by various U.S. police agencies and, ironically, they also incorporated some rather dubious criminal consortia, who clearly had their own interests in eliminating Escobar. In spite of the enormous investment in funds and personnel, officials nevertheless took 16 months of earnest, relentless pursuit to corner him. Their tracking of the wild beast assumed an intensity and ferocity curiously akin to Escobar=s own tactics. In the end, there could be only one outcome, Escobar=s death.

Matar a Pablo Escobar is the Spanish translation of Killing Pablo. It is a quick and captivating read that portrays a fascinating individual and casts a disturbing light on the interplay of crime and corruption in 1980s-1990s Colombia. After all is said and done, the drug wars continue, and the brutal methods of Escobar and his sicarios, hired assassins, remain common practice among drug cartels today.

- Recommended by James Hassell, Culture Club Spanish Book Review Editor, Visiting Professor of Romance Languages & Literatures at Binghamton University

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Mi Pais Inventado: Un Paseo Nostalgico por Chile (My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile)
By Allende, Isabel
A book by Isabel Allende is always a major event in the publishing world. She continues to write books that are fascinating to read. Whether they are fiction or non–fiction, her books intertwine facts and fantasy and her latest book, Mi Pais Inventado, is no exception. Allende writes of her early years in Chile and then of her continual leaving and returning, both physically and psychologically. Her descriptions of who she herself is (always an outsider) and who the Chilean people are (i.e. "the English of Latin America ") are entertaining, instructive, and intriguing. Anyone who wants to learn more about Chile and its people, about the other countries of South America in relation to Chile, and about the life of Isabel Allende should read this book. And anyone who loves enthralling stories that may shock (58% of the married Chilean women are unfaithful), amuse (levitating sugar bowls in her grandfather's house), or sadden (the assassination of her uncle Salvador Allende), will find this book definitely worth reading.
- Recommended by Christine Foster Meloni

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Pablo Neruda. Selected Poems, Bilingual Edition
By Neruda, Pablo
There’s nothing better than some truly world–famous love poetry to get you through the winter months. Pablo Neruda, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, is surely one of the best–known Spanish-language poets of all time, and his vivid imagery is best read in its native tongue. However, having only merely begun my study of the Spanish language, I found this bilingual edition (English and Spanish) particularly appealing. I could read without a dictionary while still appreciating the original sound and rhythm of the poems. This is a great collection of poems by a great poet, and a valuable addition to your library.
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Paula - 1995
By Allende, Isabel
To call this book a tearjerker would be to do it a grave injustice. Instead, it’s a beautifully written testament of a devoted mother’s love for her dying daughter. December 1991 finds Isabel Allende holding vigil by her daughter’s bedside in Madrid, Spain. Twenty eight year–old Paula is the victim of porphyria, a rare, inherited blood disease, and has fallen into a coma. "Listen, Paula," says Allende as her daughter lies unconscious, "I am going to tell you a story so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost." So begins an incredible account of her family’s history. Masterful storyteller that she is, Allende effortlessly transports you from Paula’s bedside, to Chile in the 70s, and back again. Through the laughter and tears that her story elicits, readers can see that Allende still aches for her native Chile that she had to flee following the overthrow and execution of her uncle, Salvador. However, displacement from their homeland has not weakened the unquestionable bond of love that holds this brave family together, as they continue – strong and supportive – to hope for the miracle of Paula’s recovery. That miracle never happens, and a year later, Isabel surrendersher daughter to a peaceful death with the words "Godspeed, Paula, woman. Welcome, Paula, spirit." Available from Amazon.

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Posdata
By Paz, Octavio
Written by Octavio Paz, this non-fiction book is an accurate analysis of Mexico’s social and political condition. Written from a sociologic point of view, it deals with Mexico’s culture, family structure, government, economy and Mexicanisim. Written after 1968, the book covers the tragic deaths of many students in confrontations with the government, as the country was just about to host the Olympic games.
- Recommended by Moses Hernandez

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Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota (Spring with a Broken Corner)
By Benedetti, Mario
This tale of a political prisoner in Uruguay and the effect his incarceration has on his loved ones unfolds in a most ingenious way. It is a book to be savored, chapter–by–chapter, and one of my all time favorites.
– Recommended by Deborah Masterson

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